Mayo Clinic celebrates 1,000th cochlear implant

6:36 AM, Sep 17, 2013   |    comments
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Ritchie Hanson, 44, is the Minnesota man who received the landmark implant.

ROCHESTER, Minn. - The Mayo Clinic celebrated the placement of its 1,000th cochlear implant over a 30 year span on Monday.

Ritchie Hanson, 44, is the Minnesota man who received that landmark implant. He has neurofibromatosis type 2, a genetic disease that causes growth of noncancerous tumors in the nervous system.

In his case, the tumors developed on the brain and nerves, which affected his hearing and balance. Eventually he lost total hearing when brain tumors had to be surgically removed from his auditory nerves.

"I am in a totally quiet world now where there is no sound at all," said Hanson, who says he misses listening to music the most.

His hearing slowly declined over the past decade and he says he became completely deaf this past June. He communicates through others through a white dry erase board. KARE 11 interviewed him by writing questions on the board a few hours before his implant was turned on.

"Now, I will be up the road back to hearing again, it's a great day I believe," said Hanson.

A cochlear implant has two parts: First, a microphone worn outside the ear through a magnet picks up sound. It transmits the signals to a surgically placed receiver inside, converting the signals to electrical impulses down to an electrode implanted in the cochlea of the ear. Finally, the brain registers the sounds.

Three decades of research are behind Hanson's new cochlear implant, a device Dr. Doug Sladen, a Mayo Clinic audiologist, says were once meant for those born profoundly deaf.

"It's not just for the deafest of the deaf. The very first patients implanted heard nothing," said Sladen.  "Having Ritchie be our 1,000th patient, to me just kind of exemplifies the technology is getting more broad, and we are able to apply it to more populations so more people are able to benefit from it."

The resounding achievement arrived with a crescendo the moment Hanson's implant was turned on.

He was first able to hear the tones and beeps from electrodes, and then Sladen wanted to know if Hanson could understand his voice.

"I am going to talk and tell you for lunch I had a ham and cheese sandwich," said Sladen.

A few seconds passed and then Hanson registered the words.

"Ham and cheese?" he asked.

"That's pretty good," said Sladen.

"Was it (sandwich) pretty good?" said Hanson with a smile.

Clearly, there was no loss to his sense of humor as he regained the soundtrack of a great day.

"Do you want to go to Dos Amigos for margaritas later?" said Hanson's sister asked.

"How many margaritas?" Hanson retorted.

Hanson says the first song he wants to listen to is "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet.

"What kind of day is it now? It's an excellent day. I'm hearing way better than I expected," he said.

The National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders tracks the number of cochlear implants in the U.S. and says, "according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as of December 2010, approximately 219,000 people worldwide have received implants.

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